Active Minds and Associated Students jointly held “Stigma Free UCSB” yesterday in Storke Plaza to facilitate discussion between students, staff and mental health professionals about issues surrounding student mental health.
The event began with a fair featuring representatives from 15 to 20 mental health organizations, including Active Minds, Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) and the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), among other organizations. A public panel discussion and Q&A session followed the fair, where local mental health professionals and several students shared their personal struggles with mental health stigmatization. Attendees were also encouraged to give their own input on how to address stigma surrounding student mental health issues.
Southern Santa Barbara County NAMI President and panel member George Kaufmann said putting a face to mental illness recovery is an important aspect of providing support services effectively.
“I’d just like to support how important it is to have someone with [mental health support] experience describe how that experience made a difference,” Kaufmann said. “Just remember how difficult that is for someone who has struggled with mental health issues who has achieved a level of recovery.”
According to Kaufmann, overcoming personal fear of stigmatization is vital to eliminating mental health stigma for all people.
“The difficulty is that most people that do achieve a level of mental health recovery, they don’t want to become a poster child,” Kaufmann said. “So it’s something we really have to develop.”
According to fourth-year psychology major and event organizer Alex Hill, the event was put on to create “a public forum where students could share their experiences” with mental health issues.
Associate Dean of Student Wellness Angela Andrade said mental health stigma is a widespread issue that affect a wide array of students on campus.
“This is such a great event,” Andrade said. “I’ve been on campus for 17 years and I have taken the time to research stigma during the last three years. I’ve talked to many, many students about their experiences regarding mental health, and I can tell you that it is my belief that stigma is still a big problem in our society.”
According to Andrade, one of the concerns for professionals working to reduce mental health stigma involve those individuals who fear being judged or perceived differently.
“The sad truth is that because of this some students — they could be your friends or roommates — are not seeking the help that they could benefit from because of social stigma,” Andrade said. “We need to take this question with us when we leave: Is this okay? Is stigma okay? More education is needed to understand that mental health struggles do not mean that someone is weak.”
“Towards the end of high school I was terrified of what my friends, family and classmates would see if I took off the mask that said I had my life together,” Keller said. “It’s been a long, hard, up and down battle getting to the point where I can now reject the stigma. Of course I know that my journey is not over and that there are still struggles, but there are many, many triumph.”